Musings of a COO: Reinvention

It still boggles my mind sometimes that my job description now reads Pharma Executive.  Not so long ago, I was a pre-school teacher.  I was hanging out with 4 year-olds in the playground, writing lesson plans, filling out report cards and singing nursery rhymes with my students.  I thought I’d be a teacher for the rest of my life–I was good at it, and education is my passion.  In fact, I had gotten my Masters Degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education at NYU, and taught pre-school for 9 years.  But I guess life has a way of surprising us, with its twists and turns, disrupting even the best-laid plans.  Not that I have any regrets about what I’ve become—in fact, quite the opposite.  I am truly, truly proud of and fulfilled in my job!  I feel blessed to have been given this wonderful opportunity to start fresh, and to make a valuable contribution to the legacy that my grandparents started.

Teaching at Corlears School in Manhattan

On a field trip with my students at Beacon

As a teacher, receiving drawings like this from my students was something I treasured.

A note from one of my favorite students.

If I was going to be really technical about it, my “career” in our family business actually started when I was a kid.  At a very young age, my dad already exposed my siblings and me to the business, as he tried to instill in us the value of hard work, and earning our keep.  Before we embarked on family summer vacations, for example, my dad would have us work in the office, and our salaries would serve as our “baon”.  I have such fond memories of working in the samples department, assembling the boxes of medicines, and folding the literature that would go inside them.  One summer, I was assigned to count the number of doctor calls made by each of the med reps, and another summer, my siblings and I were assigned in the plant, to learn a bit more about the production side of the business.

Celebrating Foundation Day with our employees. This was taken sometime in the early 80's. Can you spot me? 🙂

In hindsight, these experiences not only made me appreciate the business we had, but it also enabled my siblings and I to develop deep and lasting relationships with our employees.  Working did not feel at all like work.  The office became our playground, the employees our playmates.  I truly enjoyed what I did, although working for the family business later on as a grown up, was the farthest thing from my mind.

Fast forward many, many years later, after a particularly physically and emotionally exhausting school year, I found myself ready to give up my career in teaching, and ready to move on to other things.  At first, however, I was a bit scared because not only did I not know what to do, I also did not know what else I was good at. Not having any business experience or background, I always wondered what I could possibly contribute to our company, especially since I never received any formal training in running a business.  Teaching had been my life for 9 years.  Where else could I put my education and experience to good use?  What other organization would accept me?  Would I have to start from the bottom again and work my way up?  So many questions were swirling in my head at that time…Lucky for me, there was always an alternative—one that I’d never really considered until I was faced with that crossroad… I had a standing offer from my dad to join the company, and I initially did so as his assistant and check signer (what a job, right?  Hahaha!).  Despite how trivial my designation seemed at first, in hindsight, I thought it was a great way to ease myself into the organization, and to dip my feet into the corporate world.  Because I was not immediately assigned to a position with much responsibility, my dad allowed me to take the time and opportunity to familiarize myself with the intricacies of our business, and eventually, he found the best place where I could make my contribution.

To this day, I continue to credit my dad for the success and fulfillment I experience with my work.  He knew where my talents and passion would be put to best use.  Because I am creative, artistic, and love design, he made me head of a department that executes packaging and marketing collaterals for our brands.  Because I love to talk, to meet people and am a very social person, I also head Corporate Communications.  Lastly, because he knows how important “giving back” is to me, he put me in charge of CSR where I have numerous daily opportunities to help the less fortunate.

I will also always be grateful to my dad for never forcing me nor any of my siblings to work for the business.  He always encouraged us to pursue our passions, and was very supportive of the path we chose to take for ourselves. I think that was really important for me, especially as a young adult trying to make it in the world.  I learned how to rely on myself, to hone my craft, to get up again on the days that life got me down, to appreciate my weaknesses and celebrate my strengths…At the end of the day, because of the love and support of my dad (and ofcourse, my mom too!) I had the confidence to be who I wanted to be, and I knew that there were no limits to what I could do.   Funnily enough though, after all was said and done, I DID eventually end up working for our company!  Hahaha!  But like I said, I could not have started over again, if I did not believe in myself as a person, and if I did not believe that I could reinvent myself into an even better version of my previous self.  Journey was on to something when they said, “Don’t Stop Believing…”.  These are truly powerful words of advice 🙂

Despite the fact that I am no longer part of a field that is even remotely related to education, I have to mention that having the experience of being a teacher was all for naught.  Actually, I think that having gained experience elsewhere prior to working for the family business allowed me to develop a good business ethic.  I feel I am more “professional”, more considerate, and do not operate on entitlement.  I put a lot of value on protocol, and respecting the chain of command.  I hardly pull out my “I’m the COO” card, and when I do, it’s for good reason only :).  My teaching stint has also given me a different perspective on how I feel the business should be run.  My ideas tend to be more creative and fun, less serious and stiff.  I tend to focus equally on values and performance, rather than just doing things excellently.  I think these characteristics have made me an even better executive, or at least one that is unique from the usual run of the mill types.

So what is next for me on my personal and professional journey?  I cannot really tell.  While I am very content and happy with what I am doing, I am not discounting the fact that this is but another pit stop in the adventure that is life 🙂 And because I’ve done it once, I totally think I can reinvent myself all over again. There is so much to do, and so much to be–the options are boundless! I only hope to be blessed with more opportunities to come my way.  And when they do, I’ll be ready and waiting 🙂

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